MAPLEWOOD, Minn. – Maplewood's fire chief and five members of his department have been placed on administrative leave, following the death of a 71 year old woman at a nursing home earlier this month.
Maplewood Police Chief Paul Schnell says firefighters and paramedics were called to the Good Samaritan Society nursing home Aug. 7 where Linda Sandhei, who had advanced Parkinson's disease had stopped breathing and was unresponsive.
Schnell said the nursing home staff began CPR, and had no health care directive directly on hand to stop care otherwise. Schnell said then resuscitation attempts were made by paramedics and firefighters during the process of taking her to the hospital.
"Ultimately when they were able to get a heartbeat, at the request of the family, that family wished that person not be transported to a hospital and all treatment be stopped," said Chief Schnell.
Records show the woman's husband, Thomas Sandhei, arrived and asked them to stop. The woman's son tells the Pioneer Press that her condition had been deteriorating, and her husband was simply following her wishes.
The woman was taken back to the nursing home where she died 20 minutes later. Schnell says police investigated and consulted with the Ramsey County Attorney's Office, then decided the death was not a criminal matter.
"We simply wanted to ask that question were there any clear and substantial violations of the laws that would or could result in a criminal prosecution and in consultations with the County Attorney's office, the answer to that question was no," said Chief Schnell.
With a police case closed, another investigation opens in city hall. City Manager Melinda Coleman confirms Maplewood's fire chief and the five other firefighters were placed on administrative leave, while an outside investigator looks into a complaint. She said she could not specify anything further due to a pending investigation.
"My initial reaction I felt very bad for initial responders to be put in this situation. We are trying to prevent this kind of situation," explains John Song, MD, a University of Minnesota Center of Bioethics associate professor and physician himself.
"It was an awful situation for everyone involved but unfortunately this does happen," he said.
Song teaches the importance of two health care directives, either a power of attorney or a living will.
"The number one takeaway is that people should be having these advanced care planning discussions either getting them on paper, clearly known to families," said Song.
In Minnesota, Song says a "Do Not Resuscitate" or DNR order must be signed by a physician, and a living will must be signed in the presence of two adult witnesses and a notary public. He notes many more options exist, such as a "Do Not Intubate" (DNI) if someone stops breathing.
"Any kind of guides you can give to health care providers. In this case, should my heart stop, do not resuscitate me, and having that readily available would have prevented the situation unfortunately," said Song.
Melinda Coleman said the city's investigation surrounding the firefighters placed on leave should be concluded later this week.
"The system did them a disservice by not having those clear instructions in place for a situation like that," concluded Song.
He says physicians also need to be more proactive in engaging patients more in these decisions, but believes clear directives avoid end of life dilemmas like in Maplewood, where a grieving family faces even more pain.
"That is a sobering lesson from this and one we try to teach, but it's a hard thing to get used to doing as a society and individually," said Song.
In a phone message returning a call to KARE 11, the Sandhei family requested privacy.